Sarah Palin filed a lawsuit against the New York Times on Tuesday after the newspaper’s editorial board incorrectly wrote that her political action committee inspired the 2011 mass shooting that seriously injured US Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed six others.
The Times issued a correction to the June 14 editorial, which was written after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. In the lawsuit’s complaint, Palin said the correction didn’t go far enough — and accused the Times of publishing the false information intentionally or recklessly because of the paper’s history of hostility toward her.
“Mrs. Palin brings this action to hold The Times accountable for falsely stating to millions of people that she, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, who committed a substantial portion of her adult life to public service, is part of a pattern of “lethal” politics and responsible for inciting an attack that seriously injured numerous people and killed six, including a nine-year-old girl who, at that time, was the same age as Mrs. Palin’s youngest daughter,” the complaint reads.
A spokesperson for the Times said the news organization had not yet reviewed Palin’s claims, but that it would defend itself “vigorously” against the suit.
In 2011, Palin’s PAC circulated an image that put crosshairs on the Arizona congressional district represented by Giffords, as well as several other districts represented by Democrats. There has never been any evidence that the image was seen by gunman Jared Lee Loughner, who opened fire on Giffords and a group of her constituents at a Tucson congressional event.
Palin’s complaint states that “speculative and unsubstantiated rumors” about the image hurt her professional and personal life in the aftermath of the shooting.
“Among other things it led to the end of her position as a Fox News political commentator, influenced her decision not to run for President of the United States, and tainted her personal and professional image,” the complaint states. “It took Mrs. Palin years to overcome the detrimental impacts of the false speculation that she caused Loughner to commit murder.”
The link between Palin and the shooting has been debunked by various news organizations, including the New York Times. Still, the June 14 piece by the paper’s editorial board described the PAC flyer as “political incitement,” and a “clear” link to the Tucson shooting, and said it was part of a pattern of political rhetoric fueling violence. The Times later issued a correction, and apologized for the error.
But Palin’s complaint states that the Times’ attempts to correct the record did not repair the damage to her reputation, and went against the paper’s own ethics standards.
Under US law, celebrities or government officials must prove defamatory statements not only hurt their reputation, but were made with “actual malice.” That requires a publisher or speaker to know the statements are false and publish them anyway — or to act with a reckless disregard for their veracity.
Palin’s complaint also accuses the Times of deliberately defaming her because of its distaste for her and her politics. The suit cites a Times statement to CNN that defended the premise of the editorial, even as it apologized for the factual error.
“[The Times’] statement demonstrates that, when it comes to Mrs. Palin, The Times is willing to operate with a purposeful avoidance of the truth — marked by a deliberate decision not to acknowledge facts confirming the falsity of its charges against Mrs. Palin,” the complaint states.